Siweb: What attracted you to this house in the first place?
: It's a Craftsman-style house built in 1910, and I especially like that it's not symmetrical and that the rooms are not huge. I grew up in Uruguay and am used to smaller spaces. I think they're more congenial.
ED: Did you make any changes to the original architecture?
CB: I enlarged the kitchen by taking down a wall; before, the only easy way to get outside from the kitchen was through the living room, which I thought was odd. I put in new kitchen cabinets and altered the mantel on the original fireplace to lend it more of a Craftsman feeling. And I lifted the existing flat ceilings in the living area up to the pitched roof, which opens up the interior and makes the place seem more modern.
ED: And you added all the built-in bookcases, right?
CB: Yes. I love bookcases, so I installed a wall of them in the den in the main house and in my office, which used to be the garage, although when this house was built most people had horses and carriages.
ED: Tell us why you chose to paint the interior all one color.
CB: I'd worked with Benjamin Moore's Stonington Gray before, for a client. I find that it gives you enough color without claiming too much attention. It doesn't clash with anything you put against it, or detract from the art. It looks great against dark floors and helps make white trim look really crisp. I used a lighter shade of the same color for my bedroom and a darker shade for the bath.
ED: You used a similarly subtle designer trick with the curtains in the living area and den.
CB: The design of the curtains is the same in each space, and the Houlès trim is the same, but the fabric is different. In the living area, I used a thin linen gauze from Diamond Foam & Fabric to allow as much natural light as possible into the room. In the adjacent den, where the television is, I used a thicker Rogers & Goffigon linen from Cowtan & Tout, which keeps out all the light.
ED: Most of the big furniture pieces are your own design. They have a feeling of history about them, but they're not just reproductions either, are they?
CB: They reference earlier periods, but they are original pieces. I work with a fabricator — I'll start with a leg, and we'll work that out and then move on from there. The love seat in the living area has muslin upholstery with a fitted canvas slipcover.
ED: People with pets and children always say that white is impractical.
CB: I live with a dog and a cat, and when I need to, I throw the slipcovers in the washer and dryer. Maintenance hasn't been a problem.
ED: And why the dark floors?
CB: I like wood to be either very light or very dark. These are the original floors, so they have a lot of nicks and dings. They look much better with a dark stain. I keep them very shiny with a product by Bona, a company that's been around almost as long as this house.
ED: There's the sense that your house is a scrapbook of your life. Tell us about your style of collecting.
CB: Almost everything in my home is something I found while traveling, from the Venetian candlesticks on the mantel to the Italian wood carving in the bedroom. I have a passion for art and for beautiful, proportionate shapes.
ED: How would you describe your style — is it more feminine or masculine?
CB: I don't think it's exactly masculine, but it's less obviously feminine. I like a tailored look, with strong lines and contrast, which seems more contemporary. I do like bedrooms to be a little more feminine than the public rooms.
ED: Do you keep the furniture layout flexible on purpose?
CB: Absolutely. I sometimes swap the living room and dining room, and the dining room doubles as a work space.
ED: Why no real bed in your guest room?
CB: There's just the daybed. It's a very small room. Sometimes when I have guests I let them have my bedroom, and I sleep on the daybed. I like the mix of things in that room. The daybed is my own design and the armchair is by Gio Ponti. The mirror came from a flea market in Paris, and the bench, which is English from around 1890, has its original leather. The big pillows are from Turkey, and the floor has a 1930s Italian roll-up rug. I'm not sure what it was originally used for, but it could have been a portable dance floor, and I like the idea of that.
ED: Do you consider your house "finished"?
CB: It's not the kind of place I could add on to — I mean, I could, but it wouldn't be a good idea, so I think it's pretty much done. I love my house the way it is. Even though Los Angeles welcomed me when I first arrived in 1977, I only began to feel I had roots as an expatriate by living in this unpretentious but solid house.
What The Pros Know
For Benvenuto, a dark-wood finish makes older floors look better and a small space look larger, partly because the legs of dark-wood furniture disappear into the color of the floor.
For small areas, the designer uses furniture that doesn't seem to take up a lot of room, like the glass cocktail table in her living area. Mirrors, as well as glass, acrylic, metal, and gilt pieces help animate petite spaces.
Benvenuto likes to layer rugs and carpets for visual softness and color. Like pillows, rugs can be changed easily and inexpensively for a quick design tweak.